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VZCZCXR00403 

PP RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV 
DE RUEHDM #0847/01 3311412 
ZNY CCCCC ZZH 
P 261412Z NOV 08 
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS 

TO RUEHAK/AMEMBASSY ANKARA PRIORITY 5660 
RUE HGB / AMEMBAS S Y BAGHDAD PRIORITY 0960 
RUEHIT/AMCONSUL ISTANBUL PRIORITY 0381 
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5633 
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE PRIORITY 
RUE HGV/USMIS SION GENEVA PRIORITY 0654 
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK PRIORITY 0480 
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY 
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY 
RUEAIIA/ CIA WASHDC PRIORITY 

CONFIDENTIAL SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 000847 
SIPDIS 

DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ELA, NEA/I, PRM/ANE, IO 

DEPARTMENT PLEASE PASS TO USAID, BAGHDAD PLEASE PASS TO PRT 
MOSUL 

E.O. 12958: DECL : 11/25/2018 

TAGS: EAGR EAID ECON FAQ PGOV PHUM PREF SY 

SUBJECT: 2008 UN DROUGHT APPEAL FOR SYRIA 

Classified By: CDA Maura Connelly for reasons 1.5 b and d. 

IQ. (SBU) This is an action request cable, see paragraph 7. 

1.2. (SBU) SUMMARY: UNFAO (Food and Agriculture) Syria 

Representative Abdullah Bin Yehia is seeking USG commitment 
to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 
2008 Drought Appeal. Yehia proposes to use money from the 
appeal to provide seed and technical assistance to 15,000 
small-holding farmers in northeast Syria in an effort to 
preserve the social and economic fabric of this rural, 
agricultural community. If UNFAO efforts fail, Yehia 
predicts mass migration from the northeast, which could act 
as a multiplier on social and economic pressures already at 
play and undermine stability Syria. End Summary. 



SYRIAN DROUGHT APPEAL - IN SHORT 



1.3. (SBU) The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian 
Affairs (OCHA) launched an appeal on September 29 requesting 
roughly $20.23 million to assist an estimated one million 
people impacted by what the UN describes as the country's 
worst drought in four decades. The appeal details seven 
major projects that members of the UN country team (FAO, 

UNDP, WFP, WHO and UNICEF) plan to undertake should funding 
materialize. Roughly $14 million is requested to support FAO 
($9.36 million) and UNDP ($4.82 million) efforts to restore 
food production and safeguard agricultural livelihoods, and 
$5.2 million is being sought by WFP to provide emergency food 
assistance to the victims of the drought. There does not 
appear to have been much movement on the part of donor 
countries to fund this appeal thus far, as most of the 
funding has come from unearmarked UN funds and the Central 
Emergency Response Fund (CERF) equaling together roughly 
$2.46 million. The Italians have an uncommitted pledge of 
$700 thousand for food assistance. Additionally, UN contacts 
report the Chinese have committed to providing approximately 
$500,000, and that the Greeks are considering a contribution 
of up to $250,000. 



FAO PERSPECTIVE 



14. (SBU) UNFAO Syria Representative Abdullah bin Yehia 
briefed econoff and USDA Regional Minister-Counselor for 
Agriculture on what he terms the "perfect storm, " a 



confluence of drought conditions with other economic and 
social pressures that Yehia believes could undermine 
stability in Syria. Because he is working with such limited 
resources, Yehia plans to target FAO assistance to 
small-holding farmers in the hardest-hit province of 
northeast Syria, A1 Hasakah. (Note: This province shares a 

northern border with Turkey and a southern border with Iraq. 
Mosul is approximately 100km from A1 Hasakah province. ) 
Because the UN appeal has, thus far, not been entirely 
successful, Yehia has had to prioritize aid recipients. FAO 
has about $1.25 million out of the $9.36 million sought to 
begin programmatic work. For now, FAO aid will be awarded 
only to farmers who meet all of the following criteria: 
Applicant is head of household, has a holding of no more than 
two hectares, reports agriculture as the sole source of 
livelihood, holds no more than seven or eight head of 
livestock, had a "zero" crop yield for 2008, and has no seed 
stock for replanting a 2009 crop. 



POTENTIAL FOR SOCIAL DESTRUCTION AND POLITICAL INSTABILITY 



15. (C) Yehia does not/not believe that the SARG will allow 
any Syrian citizen to starve. (Note: It is estimated that 

SARG wheat stocks are sufficient to continue to provide 
subsidized bread in all areas of Syria throughout the coming 
winter. End note.) However, Yehia told us that the Syrian 
Minister of Agriculture, at a July meeting with UN officials, 
stated publicly that economic and social fallout from the 
drought was "beyond our capacity as a country to deal with." 

DAMASCUS 00000847 002 OF 002 



What the UN is trying to combat through this appeal, Yehia 
says, is the potential for "social destruction" that would 
accompany erosion of the agricultural industry in rural 
Syria. This social destruction would lead to political 
instability, Yehia told us. He fears that up to 15,000 rural 
farmers will fail to plant crops for the 2009 growing season, 
either because they have no residual seed stock from the 
disastrous 2008 crop, or because they are hesitant to plant 
seed (bought on credit) for fear of a repeat of the 2007-2008 
cold snap that killed seedlings last year. Another factor at 
play, according to Yehia, is the rising cost of diesel fuel 
in Syria, as the SARG continues to reduce subsidies. This 
translates into rising production costs, providing an 
additional disincentive for small farmers to maintain their 
holdings. UNFAO proposes to provide small-holding farmers in 
A1 Hasakah province who meet the above criteria (see 
paragraph 4) with seed stock and technical assistance so that 
they might realize a 2009 crop and remain on their farms for 
the foreseeable future. 

1[6 . (C) Without direct FAO assistance, Yehia predicts that 
most of these 15,000 small-holding farmers would be forced to 
depart A1 Hasakah province to seek work in larger cities in 
western Syria (Damascus and Aleppo, primarily). 

Approximately 100,000 dependents — women, children and the 
elderly or infirm — would be left behind to live in poverty, 
he said. Children would be likely to be pulled from school, 
he warned, in order to seek a source of income for families 
left behind. In addition, the migration of 15,000 unskilled 
laborers would add to the social and economic pressures 
presently at play in major Syrian cities. A system already 
burdened by a large Iraqi refugee population may not be able 
to absorb another influx of displaced persons, Yehia 
explained, particularly at this time of rising costs, growing 
dissatisfaction of the middle class, and a perceived 
weakening of the social fabric and security structures that 
Syrians have come to expect and - in some cases - rely on. 

V7 . (SBU) ACTION REQUEST: Post received several queries as to 

whether the U.S. intends to contribute to the 2008 Syrian 
Drought Appeal, and we request department guidance on the 
matter. UNFAO is seeking immediate donor commitments that 
will allow them to borrow against the UN CERF. According to 



Yehia, UNFAO is trying to get seed stock to farmers in A1 
Hasakah by mid-December to ensure that they do not miss the 
window for planting a 2009 crop. 

T_8 . (C) COMMENT: Given the generous funding the U.S. currently 
provides to the Iraqi refugee community in Syria and the 
persistent problems WFP is experiencing with its efforts to 
import food for the refugee population, we question whether 
limited USG resources should be directed toward this appeal 
at this time. 

CONNELLY